The FDA Strikes Again!

Okay, it is Saturday night after a looonnnngggg week at Fedco Trees and an active day of wood-splitting, bee-feeding and maple-tree-tapping but I have to write about this one whether I’m exhausted or not.   The Food and Drug Administration has decided that it hasn’t pissed off enough farmers lately with the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA).  An act designed by Monsanto to put small farmers out of business.   Now it is going to make the lives of small livestock owners and brewers more difficult by not allowing an age-old form of recycling.   This is what the Portland Press Herald had to say about the practice:”Maine’s craft brewers and farmers have had a standing agreement for years: After the brewers take malt sugars and flavors from various grains, farmers get the leftovers as cheap, protein-rich feed for their livestock. The breweries offload a waste product without paying to process it or putting it in a landfill.”   Sounds like something that makes a lot of sense, right?   Well the FDA is not getting much of a reputation for common sense these days.

As the mother of a talented amateur brewer who aspires to own a micro-brewery some day and as the owner of a small flock of laying hens, who are damn expensive to feed these days, this pisses me off on two levels.  I wish there were a brewery close enough by to provide me with this nutritious and delicious waste product.  And I hope that this sensible form of reuse will be available to my son if and when he opens up his own brewery (his Maple Syrup Porter alone will support the place, it is that good).  But not if the FDA has its way.  “The agency plans to require brewers to treat the byproduct as animal feed, meaning it would have to be dried and packaged before being fed to animals, or dumped in landfills.”    More expense, more regulation, more $$$ for someone, obviously.   But not  for the small struggling farmer or the people who make the stuff that proves that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

Way to go FDA.   Keep it up.   Keep adding more and more onerous regulations to the FSMA rules and you’ll find yourself with a full on farmers revolt on your hands.  And pissed off beer drinkers, too!

Happy International Women’s Day! (and happy anniversary to The Populist Farmer)

Three years ago today I finally got up the courage to start my own blog about politics and agriculture.   And as they say…thus was born The Populist Farmer.   I meant to write every day, and the Goddess said “Ha!” but I have managed to keep this small avenue for expressing my joys, fears, frustrations, paranoia and triumphs alive through over 200 posts.    So there!

This particular post is going to be a rambling stream of consciousness set of musings on women, politics, life, the universe and everything.

Lets start with GOOGLE.   Since their little movie on their home page today is what inspired me to write this.   I have a new Chromebook which my wonderful children bought for me when my old laptop died and as much as I was reluctant to give this little machine any credit it has proved to be very useful in the activist work that I do and even in the work I am doing with two friends in developing a worker owned co-op.   So although it is evil in many regards (can’t be used without an internet hook up, won’t let you use other company’s products in many cases, no expectation of any privacy since everything you work on is “in the cloud”) it is a good tool in many ways.    We just need to remember that the interwebs and computers and smartphones and all the other ubiquitous devices with which we populate our days are just that TOOLS!!!   I use them for work and for organizing and try very hard not to have them use me.

I am having some logging done on my land.   Well, to be more specific, I have just fired the logger who was cutting trees on my land because he obviously did not understand me (or chose not to) when I said I wanted to do a light selective harvest.   Once again reinforcing to me the need to follow my instincts.   There were valid reasons not to want skidders on my land.   Now I remember them.  Unfortunately my forest suffered in the meantime.  But the reason this is pertinent today is because I really believe this guy thought I was some timid little old gray-haired woman that he could push around, lie to and rip off.    Not so.   But the perception is understandable.   He is a product of his machismo culture.   I feel badly that he is going to have such struggles in his business dealings because of his poor attitude. Or maybe not.

Which brings me to my next (and most important) point.   I have just read this great essay called Men Explain Things to Me, Facts Didn’t Get in Their Way” By Rebecca Solnit.   Here is a snippet, go read the whole essay as your celebration of International Women’s Day.   “So I opened an essay for the Nation with this interchange, in part as a shout-out to one of the more unpleasant men who have explained things to me: Dude, if you’re reading this, you’re a carbuncle on the face of humanity and an obstacle to civilization. Feel the shame.”  This essay is pithy, funny, sad, and spot on!

Finally, yesterday, I spent the day in Augusta, again.   About raw milk, again.   And we lost, again.   I mean we didn’t really lose.   But the bill that got voted out of committee is a mess.   It has just enough to make everyone unhappy (which several of the men in the room seemed to think was the goal of the day.)   Piss everyone off just a little.   But at one point the lawyer, who was trying to take this piece of sausage and turn it into something that was at least understandable, and the Senate chair, both of whom happen to be women, were trying to sort through the hash that the bill had become.   My friend Heather Retberg murmured, “thank god there are women in the room!”   And that is too true.  The women in the room, at least those not totally co-opted by the dominant masculine paradigm, were the only ones trying to reach a compromise that made sense.   Not one that just sought to make everyone equally miserable.  We were even nice to each other and not excessively condescending.   It, once again, reaffirmed my belief that the world will be a better place when women run it.

Tin Foil Hat, You Say?

This post is for all my friends and acquaintances who think I am a tinfoil-hat-wearing-paranoid.    Sometimes they really are spying on us, sneaking around, and trying to discredit us.   At a meeting the other day a friend mentioned the name Tyrone Hayes.   Well, I had never heard of Dr. Hayes before that and I wrote down his name to look up later.  Then today another friend posted this article about Syngenta’s campaign to discredit any scientist that dared question the safety of its products.    And there was Dr. Hayes.   Target #1 on their slimy corporate hit list.   Read this article and then tell me the SOBs aren’t out to get us.

In a recent profile of Hayes in the New Yorker there is this quote “the scientists wrote that one set of studies on a single species was ‘not a sufficient edifice on which to build a regulary assessment.” Citing a paper by Hayes, who had done an analysis of sixteen atrazine studies, they wrote that “the single best predictor of whether or not the herbicide atrazine had a significant effect in a study was the funding source.’”  Go read that one, too.

Baker’s Green Acres and DNR Antics

Latest update from Baker’s Green Acres.

I have to say this guy is doing the right thing in fighting the bureaucrats over this right to farm issue but I have a few problems with his presentation.   I don’t know if the DNR bureaucrat is Jewish or not but his name is Harry not Hymie and the fact that Mark Baker makes that “slip of the tongue” several times in this video does nothing to help his (Mark’s) case as far as I am concerned.

Otherwise this is good news.   Typical of the bureaucrats to back off once they know they have lost.   Anyhow watch it for yourself and see what you think:

The Green Shadow Cabinet Would Veto the Farm Bill

As President Obama signs the Farm Bill into law I am sharing this analysis of why it is not a great bill from the Green Shadow Cabinet.

The Farm Bill is the federal blueprint for the American food system. Due to pass into law as soon as this Friday, the bill does little to address poor nutrition, GMO and other unsustainable practices, and dangerous corporate control over the U.S. and global food supply.

The Green Shadow Cabinet have analysed the bill, and have reached the conclusion that it should be vetoed and replaced by new legislation with the wellbeing of farmers, consumers and the land -rather than corporate interests, at its heart.

The Farm Bill that President Obama signed into law will result in a very high level of hunger in the world’s richest country. It continues to promote a diet of overly processed food (or food substitutes) high in fat, sugar and salt that leads to health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. It provides massive tax subsidies to corporate agribusiness and wealthy investors rather than supporting family farmers. It promotes promote unhealthy food, monoculture and genetically engineered crops as well as confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) rather than sustainable agriculture. It slashes funding for conservation measures needed to reduce the pollution of our waters from these large scale, factory farming operations.

The power of corporate interest in Washington is evident throughout this legislation. For example, Dow has successfully lobbied to have a one-paragraph provision added to the Farm Bill that will reverse the EPA’s proposed decision to prohibit the use of sulfuryl fluoride. This is despite the 2011 EPA proposal to phase-out the use of sulfuryl fluoride as a food fumigant which was based on the science – and agreed with all of the objections brought forward in the complaint.

The push to level the playing field for smaller livestock processors and farmers slid backwards. There are only a handful of beef packers, hog processors and poultry integrators. Farmers and ranchers often have little alternative but to accept the terms and prices offered by the few, large firms that dominate the industry – terms that are often unfair and abusive (to both the farmers and animals).

SNAP (food stamp) benefits were cut to an estimated 850,000 households – mainly public housing residents – by an average of $90 a month ($8.6 billion over 10 years). This was on top of the $5 billion SNAP cuts agreed to three years ago (when the Democrats were in the majority in both houses) but which took effect on Nov. 1. More than half of those receiving food stamps have a job but their pay is too low to feed their families. Anti-hunger advocates had wanted to increase food stamp benefits by at least 30%; right now they provide less than $1.40 per meal per person.

Demand at emergency food providers around the country has skyrocketed since the Great Recession started in 2007, more than doubling in many communities. Much of the rise in hunger has been due to the sharp spike in unemployment – and under the meager so-called recovery, middle class jobs have been replaced by those paying less than a poverty wage. The Republican response to joblessness has been to cut food benefits (they will be more desperate for work if they are starving) and to cut unemployment benefits.

Many groups have expressed relief in the passage of the farm bill, noting that it could have been far worse. There are some modest reforms in the present bill. The Farm Bill does relink conservation requirements to the receipt of crop insurance premium subsidies. A number of good programs that were cut out a year ago when the farm bill was extended were restored – Beginning and Disadvantaged farmers, farmers markets, community food projects, support for local food systems, etc. But they amount to a few million dollars here and there in a bill that spends around $100 billion annually. Pocket change, not game changers.

The last time the Farm Bill passed in 2008, House Speaker leader Nancy Pelosi publicly promised the American people that Congress would never pass such a bad farm bill again, after a spirited struggle to reign in corporate subsidies failed. Pass it now, we’ll do better next time, she said. That promise was not kept.

President Bush vetoed that 2008 Farm Bill because it “continues subsidies for the wealthy.” President Obama lacks the courage to do so. This time around, the minor reforms to curb such subsidies were jettisoned in the closing hours of negotiations.  Instead of a $50,000 annual limit on the primary payments (or double that for married couples), Congress approved a $125,000 limit (again, doubled for married couples).  They also decided not to adopt the House and Senate-passed provisions to close the loopholes that currently allow large, wealthy farms to collect many multiples of the nominal payment limit.

Yes, the system of direct payments for commodities was largely eliminated (largely due to record high prices) but environmental and taxpayer groups claim that the new insurance “reforms” are largely a bait-and-switch effort that will continue giveaways to agribusiness and wealthy investors. Though there were some limited reforms to aid both organic and diversified farm operations, the crop insurance program is designed to protect, at taxpayer expense, the profits of large farms that produce commodity crops. It does little to protect small integrated farmers that actually grow food,

A proposal to cap (not eliminate) the profits of the ten largest farm insurance providers in order to free up funds to eliminate the cuts to the SNAP program was defeated 2 to 1 in the Senate – which meant that 2 dozen Democrats voted against it. Taxpayers take the risk under the farm insurance program while the insurance companies pocket the profits.

This Farm Bill highlights all that is wrong with our political and economic system. It continues the destructive and inequitable status quo. The debate was not over what was good for America, but between the needs of plain farmers in the mid-West (corn, soy, wheat) vs. Southern farmers (rice, cotton, peanuts). The well-being of the vast majority of Americans wasn’t a factor. Campaign contributions and special interests determined the decisions.

For all of these reasons, the Green Shadow Cabinet cannot support the Farm Bill, and maintain our call for full restoration of SNAP, A global moratorium on genetically engineered foods and crops, organic production targets and a fair-trade model for the U.S. food supply.

~ The Green Shadow Cabinet includes nearly 100 prominent scientists, community and labor leaders, physicians, cultural workers, veterans, and more, and provides an ongoing opposition and alternative voice to the dysfunctional government in Washington D.C..

New Farm Bill, Can You Say “Finally”

A pie about the Farm Bill circa 2014.

The House-Senate Conference Committee has approved the new farm bill.   This synopsis was obviously written by a Republican but read it anyhow.   This one’s good for five years.   We’ll see what it does and doesn’t do for us.  After two years of wrangling about it you would think it would be a monument to statesmanship, compromise and progress.   It most likely is not.   And no matter what it actually contains the proof of what it will actually do for us will be in the rule making and enforcement.

Here is the Associated Press synopsis, I have highlighted the parts I like:

— Test programs in 10 states that would allow new work requirements for food stamp recipients.

— A prohibition on lottery winners, convicted sex offenders and murderers from receiving food stamps.

— The end of so-called direct payments, government subsidies paid to farmers whether they farm or not. The payments now cost around $4.5 billion a year.

— A new revenue insurance subsidy that would pay farmers in the event of “shallow losses,” or revenue losses incurred before their paid crop insurance kicks in. That program might kick in sooner than previously thought as some crop prices have dropped in recent months.

— A separate subsidy program would trigger payments when crop prices drop. This is similar to current subsidies, though the new programs would kick in sooner, especially for rice and peanut producers. Producers would have to choose between these subsidies or the revenue insurance.

Stricter limits on how much money an individual farmer can receive — $125,000 annually on all payments and loans, when some were previously unrestricted. The agreement is less strict than either the House or Senate bills, which had put limits on how much a farmer could receive from individual programs. Language that would limit how many people in a farm operation may receive such payments was also passed by both chambers but taken out of the compromise bill, which would kick the issue to the Agriculture Department.

— An additional $5.7 billion for government-subsidized crop insurance programs. A Senate amendment that would have lowered crop insurance payouts for the wealthiest farmers was struck from the final version.

— A new dairy program that would do away with current price supports and allow farmers to purchase a new kind of insurance that pays out when the gap between the price they receive for milk and their feed costs narrows. The program is designed to help dairy farmers survive price collapses like they have seen in recent years. But it would not include a so-called stabilization program that would have dictated production cuts when oversupply drives down prices. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called that “Soviet-style” and pressured negotiators to take it out. He was backed by large food companies which said the program could raise the price they pay for milk.  (ed. note: but they didn’t, hurrah for them!)

— A new insurance program for cotton growers designed to bring the U.S. industry into compliance with the World Trade Organization. The WTO said in 2009 that Brazil could raise the tariffs on American goods because the United States had failed to get rid of subsidies the WTO said are illegal.

A test program that would allow 10 states to grow industrial hemp. Those 10 states have legalized cultivation but are unable to produce because of current federal law.

— Land payments to Western states. The bill gives the government authority to make payments of $425 million to states which lose tax money because of federal lands, mostly in the West. That funding had expired at the end of last year.

And then there were the real “down in the weeds” bits.  According to the WaPo “Page 881 of the farm bill outlines “Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling of Beef, Pork, Lamb, Chicken, Goat Meat, Wild and Farm-raised Fish and Shellfish, Perishable Agricultural Commodities, Peanuts, Pecans, Ginseng and Macadamia Nuts.”   You really will get to know where your food is coming from.   And that is a good thing.  And “A big deal for the Whole Foods crowd. According to the bill, “The term ‘farm-raised fish’ means any aquatic species that is propagated and reared in a controlled environment.”

But if you just want to read the whole 1000 pages for yourself.   Go for it.

Government Over-reach in Michigan

Baker’s Green Acres is under siege.   Because they are growing a heritage breed of pig.   You can read about this on their website or on another website that I have a few problems with but which does do a fairly fair job of telling the story.

“By any account, the state of Michigan has run rampant using their positions to abuse the people and swine of Michigan. For the past two years, a peaceful farmer, instead of producing food for his community, has spent countless hours in court, filing papers, working with his attorneys to keep his livelihood, and has gone to bed every night wondering what the state-paid pigs are going to do next. Baker and his family have been traumatized by the events and they have seen the consequences of such trauma.

The Baker family hopes that they can keep the pigs they want and that they never hear from the “feral” pigs again.

The only silver lining is that there is still the possibility of setting a desirable precedent. After 2 long years, countless threats, and harassment, Baker is finally scheduled to have his day in court. The trial is set for March 11-14, 2014. This trial is an opportunity for people to support a peaceful farmer from the intrusion of feral pigs who work for the DNR (Department of Natural Resources).”

 

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